The day is finally here after seven months of planning, some very encouraging times, a big setback, and more than a few patience-trying days. I’m ready to board my flight to Mumbai, India, en route to visits with my friends, the Henrys, at the Christian Hospital Mungeli.
I was approached in November 2012 with the possibility of writing a book about Dr. Veeru Henry and Nancy (Lott) Henry and their 50-years of medical mission service in India’s northeastern interior.
Two years ago I visited the Henrys in India with a contingent of people from Avon Lake (Ohio) United Church of Christ, the church where Nancy Lott was commissioned as a missionary nurse in 1960. Forty-five years later, her son and daughter-in-law, Drs. Anil and Theresa Henry, would be commissioned at the same church as medical missionaries for Global Ministries, the joint international mission agency of the UCC and Disciples of Christ.
The book will be a biography of the amazing work this family has accomplished in the last half-century in bringing advanced medical care facilities, primary and secondary education, nursing schools, rural nursing outreach, and many more social services to rural and tribal areas of India.
So what began as a few emails, an estimate of the work to be completed, and discernment among those concerned has come full circle with fundraising for the project and me finally getting on the flight.
Along the way though, timing and bureaucracy has caused some heartaches. Timing is mixed in with other projects I have underway and a move to Portland, Oregon, scheduled for July.
Things got interesting after purchasing my flight and making arrangements for travel within India nearly two months prior to the scheduled departure, I applied for my visa.
What should have been a several day process of document exchange and visa approval became a three month ordeal of wrestling with the Indian consulate in New York City.
I had previously gone to India as a Journalist, but (unknown to me) with the special exception of being a journalist traveling for tourist purposes only. India is unique in the visa game in that if you work in a field that even sounds journalistic – like editor, writer, photographer – you are required to obtain a journalist visa. You could be an editor for advertising copy, you could write children’s books, or you could be a wedding photographer and it is likely that India would require you to register as a journalist.
Applying for my visa at the same time I purchased tickets I assumed there would be no problem getting my visa in time – but that assumption was soon challenged as requests were made for more documentation prior to submission to the consulate. I clearly outlined the project I was working on and received an endorsement of the project for validity and submitted it.
Then a second request came, this time from the consulate, asking for a detailed itinerary while I was in India. I submitted this information the day it was requested and assumed all was moving along smoothly.
I waited and waited, and waited some more. After my visa application had been at the consulate for a month – with only two weeks until my trip – I started to call the visa outsourcing company nearly daily. They were unable to assist as the decision was in the hands of the consulate.
As the week before my departure arrived I began calling the consulate and finally on Friday, one business day before my Monday, April 8, departure, got news that my visa would not make it to me in time for my departure.
It was a painful experience to put the brakes on the trip after so much planning – but mostly because of all the planning that had happened in India by the Henry family.
After requested my visa back, putting my travel on hold, and strategizing new dates, I reapplied for my visa – this time as a journalist traveling for tourism purposes.
Back to the trip – I decided to visit my fiancé Lindsay in Portland prior to leaving for India, not knowing if the visa would be granted and a mid-May departure would be possible. I had planned on going to Portland following the India trip. We are remodeling a duplex and friends had a wedding, so the stopover seemed a good way to regroup after being overseas for nearly a month.
Fortunately my visa was granted within two weeks and a new departure date of May 14 was set after confirming with the Henrys in India and rebooking my flight. My visa states that I may engage in “no professional journalistic activities.” Not to worry, I may record video and audio of conversations with friends, scan historic pictures, take thousands of photos, and speak with people the Henrys knew throughout their ministry – but I will keep it completely unprofessional…
Leaving Portland this morning on a twin-prop puddle jumper to Seattle, I transferred to a trans-continental flight to Newark before my impending 16 hours in the air to Mumbai.
In addition to the book, I may work on – er, I may talk to friends about – the state of HIV/AIDS care and prevention in these rural areas of India. On my last visit we witnessed several cases where the hospital had worked to prevent mother-to-child transmission and had provided prevention education. I’m interested to see the ways in which these efforts developed since that time.
I look forward to posting regular updates on the progress of the project, including photos and video of the wonderful people I am sure to meet along the way.